Subversion and division
Writer: Lee Hwok Aun
Published: Fri, 12 Aug 2011
A subversive document lies before me. Brazenly, some Malaysians think “only those countries that undertook a systematic programme to transform the underlying structure of their economies … were able to rise from middle-income status to become high-income countries”. And these people say we should do likewise.
Transform the underlying structure? Who do they think they are to disrupt the current system?
Well that’s what the Economic Transformation Programme’s roadmap for Malaysia wants to do to us.
Subversive, according the Oxford Dictionary, means “seeking or intended to undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution)”. Merriam-Webster defines subvert as “to overturn or overthrow from the foundation”.
Here are more subversive lines: “The 1Malaysia concept has at its core, the principle of social justice. This principle necessitates a renewed focus on championing the interests of each and every community, ensuring no group is left behind or marginalised in the course of the nation’s development.”
That bold declaration appears in the Tenth Malaysia Plan, published last year under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Department.
Social justice appears in none of the previous development plans. By drawing in the ideas of justice and social interest, the ongoing Tenth Plan rhetorically shifts the framework from the government’s prerogative to dispense ‘redistribution’ to people’s rightful claim to a fair share of national wealth. This is subversion alright, albeit of a subtler form.
So make no mistake, the Economic Transformation Programme and Tenth Malaysia Plan possess subversive elements. Not to overthrow a government, but to overturn a system or institutional framework right from its base.
No one has been arrested for these attempts to subvert – and no one ought to be. In the course of life we are sometimes compelled to say difficult things that challenge an existing order or confront entrenched privilege.
To be fair, not all subversive content emanates from within BN. The opposition supplies a fair share, too.
Pakatan Rakyat’s Buku Jingga subversively asserts that national prosperity can be achieved and sustained only if it is buttressed by the principles of social justice and shared humanity.
But not all subversives are equal. The cost to BN of talking about social justice is, at worst, to have the agenda smothered and popularity diminished.
The cost to others can be violated freedom and official oppression. I refer, of course, to the PSM6: Parti Sosialis Malaysia’s Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar, deputy president M Sarasvathy, central committee members Choo Chon Kai and M Sukumaran, Youth chief R Saratbabu, and Sungai Siput branch secretary A Letchumanan. They were detained without trial under the Emergency Ordinance for 28 days, walled in solitary confinement, and nastily interrogated.
Upon their release on July 29, like a deflating tyre PM Najib Razak hissed how Malaysia respects the rule of law and that the police decided based on “their observations”.
Through the month of observing, we heard only ding-donging and stonewalling on the grounds for detention without trial. And after the 670 hours of observing, no charges were made, no evidence found and no confessions extracted. No apology also from the authorities who locked up and played mind games with citizens, with zero accountability and no qualms about trampling on basic human rights, dignity and decency.
On Aug 2, four days after their release, the PSM6 were charged with being in possession of “subversive documents”.The insatiable appetite to repress socialists baffles many.
Are we witnessing a real time demonstration for history students of the irrelevance and backwardness of archaic laws? An act of scapegoating and scaremongering, or an attempt to save face by actually bringing on some charge, any charge, in court? A preemptive strike by an absolutely power-over-principle establishment at a grassroots political organisation that exemplifies grassroots consistency and courage of conviction?
Whatever the intent, desperation comes across loudly in resorting to attach the subversive label on adversaries.
At the same time, without in any way condoning the injustice against them, it’s worth acknowledging that their critique of the current political economic system “out-subverts” most others’. (I’m sure PSM folks will take this as a compliment.) Socialism does not merely call for transformation of economic structures or fairer income distribution, it piercingly analyses class structure and rejects the very legitimacy of the capitalist system.
As capitalism continues to be in crisis, in a world where millions eke out their survival at the mercy of rising prices and volatile markets while millionaires live lavishly, should we not ask deeper, more fundamental questions about the economic system that assimilates us? Shouldn’t we all be a little more subversive?
Let’s not allow our minds to be put in detention without thought.